The author called it the “Jesus is my boyfriend” genre of worship music. I almost choked as I read this in the blog of a respected pastor and theologian. Beyond the obvious shock factor, his point was, well, to the point. Over the past couple decades, our move toward songs celebrating the ‘intimacy’ of worship has resulted in a whole category of songs that could have been written for Brittney Spears or other pop icons, substituting “Jesus” for ‘baby!’
I would add another ‘genre,’ the “Jesus is my therapist” version of the same, focusing on God’s immediate intervention into my emotional angst and ‘issues.’
For the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach a college level course on the book of Psalms at our church to the students of the New Life School of Worship, a residential, one-year intern / training program that has equipped several hundred worship leaders, many of whom have actually been hired as worship pastors at churches around the country.
The first two-thirds of the course focuses on the structure, poetry, and theological themes in the Psalms and the last third takes a sweeping look at how the Psalms have shaped and influenced Christian worship over the past two thousand years. After reading and studying scores of Psalms, we are still amazed at the power in the words of the Psalter.
Today our class had a lively discussion on how the early Church Fathers were hesitant to allow folks to write songs for Christian worship, preferring to use only Scripture, and particularly the book of Psalms (exclusive Psalmody). The danger was that well-intentioned songwriters would, well, write bad songs – songs with bad theology or worse; songs that actually do more harm than good.
A few ‘YouTube’ sites later and our class had gone completely off the rails. We had seen and heard some outrageous examples of songs that not only don’t reflect Scripture, they promote seemingly human romantic relationships that involve our Lord, all the while, focusing on ‘me’ rather than on God. My students are all remarkably talented young men and women, some of whom have already recorded CDs and are indeed worship leaders. They were struck with the challenge – going back to the Scripture as our source for worship rather appealing to the lowest common denominator – ourselves.
There are wonderful new worship songs out there but nothing we do is in a vacuum. Our modern ‘CCM’ generation did not invent Christian worship and, it could be argued, we haven’t really improved it much either.
It was the Psalms that inspired Martin Luther to construct the liturgy into four basic movements. Beginning with praise (the “praise” Psalms) we then move to the sermon (the “Wisdom” Psalms) followed by public confession and absolution (the “Penitent” Psalms) and culminating in the celebration of the Eucharist, the ‘giving of thanks’ for the work of Christ which can be seen in the Thanksgiving and Sacrifice Psalms. What a novel idea, begin with praise and worship, followed by instruction, public confession and ending in the celebration of the Eucharist. If it sounds boring, then the problem is with us and not with the Scriptures.